If Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. are going to win the Chicken Wars, it will be because of their commitment to hand-breaded menu items and the contributions of a franchisee.
Owen Klein, vice president of culinary innovation at CKE Restaurants—parent company of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.—says the brands’ three exciting new chicken sandwiches that launched on May 17 are “homegrown.”
“Our largest Hardee’s franchisee, Boddie-Noell Enterprises, brought us the marinade flavor for this line of chicken sandwiches,” Klein says. “We crafted this amazing lineup off that homegrown flavor. We view it as a feel-good story that goes to show that good ideas and good products can come from anywhere at this company.”
Put another way, the story exhibits the relationship CKE Restaurants holds with its franchisees. Klein and CEO Ned Lyerly say it is a relationship built on mutual respect, open collaboration, and a commitment to prioritizing big drivers of business. They say that approach is inclusive and a key contributor to the brands’ positive momentum and record-breaking sales performance. Collaboration, along with a commitment to innovation—highlighted by the three new chicken sandwiches—has also spurred a 20 percent rise in franchisee satisfaction since Lyerly took over as CEO in 2019.
“Our commitment to quality, charbroiled Angus burgers, hand-breaded chicken and fresh-baked biscuits makes us unique,” Lyerly says. “The quality and craveability of our food sets us apart from a product perspective, and our commitment to franchisee involvement is another key element of our success.”
The brand’s culinary innovation also brought consumers the first-ever 4/20 CBD Burger. CKE Restaurants was an early adopter of the plant-based craze, partnering with Beyond Meat to create multiple new menu items. But the new suite of chicken sandwiches might be the biggest splash yet.
The Hand-Breaded Chicken Sandwich is “tender, juicy all-white meat chicken” that is hand-breaded and fried, served on a toasted potato bun with crisp deli pickles and mayonnaise. The Hand-Breaded Chicken & Waffle Sandwich features the hand-breaded fried chicken in between belgian waffles topped with a maple butter glaze. Finally, the Hand-Breaded Chicken Biscuit is the hand-breaded chicken breast served on a Hardee’s Made-from-Scratch Buttermilk Biscuit, and bolsters the already-strong breakfast menu that drives 48 percent of Hardee’s sales.
Klein says the fact that the three sandwiches were in development for two years speaks to the standards of quality CKE Restaurants holds itself to, and that attention to detail makes Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. an attractive opportunity for franchisees.
“We’ve leaned into hand breading our chicken for well over a decade with our tenders,” Klein says. “We wanted to leverage that hand-breaded equity and make something great for Americans as they crave new takes on fried chicken more and more. For us, the hand-breading communicates that we put time and care into the product to make sure it’s the absolute best, freshest tasting chicken that we could possibly serve.”
With white space across the U.S. that has yet to be developed, there is plenty of opportunity to be part of the future with Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. And if the brands keep up the torrid pace they’ve been on of late—posting the best year-over-year sales comps in franchise history in Jan. 2020—this “homegrown” story figures to have a lot to do with it.
“I think these sandwiches give our menu an entirely new dimension,” Klein says. “We’re not thinking of these chicken sandwiches as a flash in the pan but as a core layer that we’ll build on for years. We’re already starting to test the next half dozen chicken products, and we expect all of this to be an incremental lift to the already-booming AUVs across the system.”
For more information on franchising with CKE Restaurants, visit the company’s website.